Nov 28, 2005 1:41pm
AMBIENT MUSIC 101: NETLABEL PRIMER
I have some thoughts about modern ambient music. What I have to say is based on lots of time spent listening to both commercial mainstream ambient works and, more so, to ambient creations made freely available by various netlabels. What I have to say is also based on random readings of on-line internet resources and various reviews of ambient releases. I’m sure that there are errors and inconsistencies in some of what I have to say, and some of my comments are probably just plain wrong.
I’ve been playing Peter Konituo’s beautiful 59+ minute ambient creation Past Andromeda [Stasisfield] in my media player almost daily since it was released this past October, but I’ve never ‘listened’ to it. On the other hand, I have ‘listened’ to the Nine Inch Nails song Hurt many of times. I know that I ‘listened’ because when I see or hear the title Hurt or when I hear a short clip of the actual music specific details of the song immediately come to mind: the individual notes played by the guitar, the sad melody, and the disturbing lyrics. The song has become a collection of symbols. To ‘listen’ means to hear with thoughtful attention or to be alert to catch an expected sound. Listening is hearing with a purpose - an attempt to possess sounds. Our mind captures sounds by trying to turn what we hear into symbols. Experiencing Past Andromeda is different. I come away more with a collage of sounds, impressions, and images rather than a structured collection of particulars. In a recent Disquiet review of Past Andromeda, Marc Weidenbaum uses metaphorical descriptors such as: “slow blooms of galactic sound that stretch from ear to ear like a blissful smile” and “occasional flurries of digitally messed-up speech, suggesting the space-enabled psychosis of Stanislaw Lem's novel Solaris“ and “heady stew of aural effluvia.” A second way that Hurt and ambient pieces like Past Andromeda are different is that Hurt has a linear quality in that the set of distinct notes and sounds that define the song must be played in a predetermined sequence for the song to have meaning. When listening to songs of this type, I often find myself skipping forwards or backwards to catch a particular sequence of sounds (guitar riff or chord progression for example). Most modern ambient pieces, however, don’t necessarily have this linear quality and are often the result of the random interplay between flowing (continuous) sounds such as processed field recordings, other digitally processed sounds, and chance. Ambient music tends to have fractal qualities such as self-similarity (the parts are similar to whole) and recursion (creating layers of sound in terms of other sounds). I rarely find myself skipping forward or backwards when playing ambient music because there’s no need when the individual parts and the whole are so reflective of each other.
Most resources concerning more modern forms of ambient music contain one or more of the following:
 Lists of important ambient artists and notable ambient works.
 A reference to Brian Eno’s coining of the term ‘ambient music‘.
 Attempts to understand ambient music in a rational, academic way by defining or explaining it from either a historical perspective or as a specific music genre having definite characteristics and qualities
As helpful as each of these may be, there are limitations to their usefulness:
 Lists identifying more recent notable ambient artists [Brian Eno, Steve Roach, Peter Namlook, Future Sound of London, Biosphere, William Basinski, Thomas Köner, Lustmord, Robert Rich] and important ambient works are incomplete because they almost always refer to the more commercial, mainstream releases and labels. Rarely are references to netlabels or netlabel artists present. The problem with such exclusive lists is that it becomes very easy to confuse the music with the maker.
 Some of Eno’s comments about ambient music in his liner notes to Ambient 1: Music for Airports
were specific to a particular place and time and don’t necessarily apply to how ambient music is perceived today. He said that the purpose of ambient music “is to `brighten' the environment by adding stimulus to it” and “to induce calm and a space to think.”I doubt if anyone could make a convincing argument for the case that Thomas Köner’s Permafrost
or the Robert Rich/Lustmord collaboration Stalker
fulfill these purposes. However, in the last sentence of the liner notes Eno made a more universal statement about the intent of ambient music that goes beyond time and place : “Ambient music must be able to accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is interesting.”
 Trying to understand ambient music by defining or explaining it presents two problems: (1) Understanding is limiting. When someone says that they ’understand’ something it requires that they assume a particular point of view which means that they are giving up (at least temporarily) other possible ways of envisaging it. (2) Definitions require symbols (such as words or musical notation), but a symbol can never communicate as much information as object itself. Ambient music seems to have a Zen-like quality in that the moment you try to capture it in symbols, you’ve lost its essence.
I’ve selected several of what I consider to be representative ambient works that I hope will give a good sampling of the excellent ambient music that is freely available from various netlabels. With so much good material available, I intentionally restricted most of my choices to longer-form pieces (at least 15 minutes), and I’ve intentionally avoided ambient hybrids such as ambient-dub and ambient-techno.
[M3U attachment follows]:
1. Peter Konituo - Past Andromeda
2. ModernArt - Blackbookblackbox EP
3. Martin Dot - Open Sky
[Rain] || Wind
4. Djinnestan - Rain 1
[Webbed Hand Records]
5. Cold Sun - 6am
6. Aidan Baker - Ichneumon
[TRIProd] || Ichneumon
7. Sultmachine - Inching Glaciers
8. Larkian - Droxma_1
9. Mayfairgrin - We have Walked Behind Skies and Danced About Architecture
[Webbed Hand Records]
10. Phyle - Earth
[Nishi] || Below the Surface
11. Kenneth Kirschner - January 2, 1999 et al.
[Conv] || July 2, 1999
12. Kuomi - V/A Ennui
[Stadtgruen] || Augsberg
13. Micah Silver - Utopian Artifacts
[Stasisfield] || Scale
14. Mystified - Emanate
[Webbed Hand Records]
15. Ubeboet - Uninhabited EP
[Mirakelmusik] || Uninhabited
16. Cisfinitum - Landschaft
[Entity] || Landschaft I
17. Paolo Veneziani - 1995-2005
[Ogredung]|| Pulse Session (extract)
18 Gyges - Composite Massive
[Panospria] || Polyspheric
19. Elian - We are All Visitors Here
[Test Tube] || We are All Visitors Here
20 - 21. Monohm - Auriga EP
[Monohm] || Driftlines | Primary
+ Driftlines | Secondary
This post was modified by LAJ on 2005-11-28 21:37:18
This post was modified by LAJ on 2005-11-28 21:41:14 Attachment: AMBIENT_101.M3U
Nov 28, 2005 8:29pm
Re: AMBIENT MUSIC 101: NETLABEL PRIMER
First of all, thanks for the comments and for the link to another netlabel that I wasn't aware of. "Entanglement" is a good choice of words. I personally regard some noise as ambient. Kevin Krebs' work as 833-45 immediately comes to mind. I should be able to carry on other tasks without being distracted when listening to it. It needs to be "as ignorable as it is interesting."
[Just started streaming "the love songs" tracks - some great ambience here.]
This post was modified by LAJ on 2005-11-29 04:29:14